Background: We are an mid to early 30's couple (hanging on to the early 30's as long as I can!) cruising with a 7 year old daughter and an 8 month old son. My husband and I have been on four Carnival cruises and took our daughter on a Norwegian cruise two years ago.
Before/Embarkation: Drove from Ohio and was going to stay in Orlando the night before. Changed plans and went on to Ft. Lauderdale and booked a hotel over the phone with Park Sleep Fly.com on the way between Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale. Hotel was wonderful, Hyatt Place on 18th St. in Dania Beach; $109 for the night and it included parking for the week. Was told over the phone the shuttle to the cruise port was free. We'd decided that with the baby we would take our car to the cruise port, drop the luggage, and then my husband would park the car at the hotel and ride the shuttle back. They informed him it would be $8. With no time to argue, he paid it and arrived back at the cruise port about 1pm. Line was semi long but seemed to be moving fast. We were told due to the stroller we could use the VIP line. This was only through security and not for checking in. This was fine with us since we didn't expect it in the first place! We waited about another half hour for checking in and we were off to the ship.
Room: We zipped right up to the 11th floor and went straight to our room, a category 8F balcony. The room met my expectations in size and worked just fine for our family of four. Such an awesome view up that high! Our daughter loved the upper bunk and alternated between that and the lower bed. We chose this floor because the spa is on the floor and there are so few cabins hoping for both quiet and as not to disturb many fellow guests if the baby would fuss. It did not disappoint. We did have some semi-noisy neighbors at times in the night in the hallways but nothing major. There was also some noise above from we assume some morning chair placing by the crew at the kid's pool. It was nothing major to stop me from booking this floor again.
Dining: Lido was a little crazy as to be expected on embarkation day but nothing I would complain about. There were a few peak times the lines were a little long but that's to be expected. Food was good; DD loved the chicken fingers and ate them every single day. I loved a Greek salad they has available in the Tandoor line every day. Breakfast was good, I do get a little tired of the breakfast by the end but that's because I'm not a big breakfast person and don't enjoy heavy fare like omelets. I just eat cereal, bagels, and yogurt and things like that. My husband got a ham and cheese omelet every day and loved it.
Dinner: Chose the Your Time Dining and absolutely loved it. We ended up eating right around 6pm every night but didn't want to be locked into a time because of the baby. After the first night we were seated in the same place with the same waiter, Dante who was FABULOUS. He has a great sense of humor and is wonderful with the kids. Our daughter loved him and she even got to dance with him when they did the dancing. Food was great, we were told they had just changed the menus and it was not fleetwide yet. There is a section of everyday favorites and then the changing menu has sections for "Didja Ever" or "Comfort Foods". Some of the didja ever foods included escargot, frog legs, alligator fritters (which were really good!). We tried them all. My stepfather was disappointed that shrimp cocktail wasn't available at all. The lobster was very good quality on elegant night. I was not disappointed with any dinner choices I made. I was also pleased crème brulee was available one night as this is my favorite dessert.
Chef's Table: We decided before the cruise to splurge on this experience as a special date night for my husband and I. It was truly an amazing and unforgettable experience. It began with the Executive Chef Sanjay Chowdury touring us through the galley, stopping for hors d'oderves and champagne. He teased us that we would be sitting at a table in the dining room before leading us to a private room (Captain's Table?) off the dining room. In there were numerous chefs and waiters who provided for our every need and prepared our food fresh in front of our eyes. Chef Sanjay explained his background and how he conceptulized each dish while the waiters kept our wine glasses full (maybe a little too full for this momma, hee hee). The food was the freshest and best tasting food I may have ever had. I'm not a foodie by any means but do enjoy the Food Network and was happy to try out some foods I saw on there. I HIGHLY recommend this experience. It is worth the splurge of $75pp considering the steakhouse is $30pp and would imagine no where near the same experience. I commented that this must be what it is like to be fithly rich and we felt like royalty.
Camp Carnival: Our DD was insistent on attending Camp Carnival. I used to think it was like dumping your kids off but they truly enjoy the experience because they get to do activites with kids their own age. We did a few different times/activities and she enjoyed them all. Her favorite experience was "Fun Till One" which was a party for 6-8 year olds from 10pm-1am. She was very excited to stay up that late.
Pools/Decks: As read in previous reviews chair saving was a problem. On the first sea day we arrived at breakfast on the Lido at about 8am and the chairs by the pool were already saved. When we decided to get the in pool about 9:30 the chairs had not been returned to. I alerted the poor girl at the towel hut and she moved the towels and cereal boxes. I only did this because I was not comfortable sitting in a chair where I could not see my daughter in the pool. The pool was like a wave pool in the morning and it concerned me because it was over her head at that point. She had a ball! The chair savers returned at 11am and did not say anything about two of their chairs being taken. I imagine this is due to the fact it was a full 3+ hours they were being saved. My daughter enjoyed the pool, slide, and hot tubs. I only wish more parents were vigilant like me and would watch their children better. I witnessed one unfortunate incident where some boys were wrestling each other and one fell in, landing square on a the face of lady who just was floating and had no idea what hit her.
I managed to sneak away to Serenity on the final sea day and really enjoyed the experience up there. Chair saving was a problem there with the big two-person chairs and hammock but I didn't let it ruin my experience. I was able to find a comfortable chair very easily and enjoyed the quiet time. Great time for all adults!
Entertainment: The 3 main shows were great and my husband enjoyed the late night comedians very much. My favorite show was the first one, "The Big Easy". We also saw "Jump, Jive, and Wail" and "Ticket to Ride" which The Beatles themed show. Throughly enjoyed them all!
Debarktation: We had number 6 but didn't make it for that call. We did get off when they called 15 and waited about 15 minutes at customs. Again, we had an issue with the shuttle from the Hyatt Place. They told my husband it would be a minumum charge of $16 or two people even if it was just him. Ended up taking a taxi back to the hotel.
Bottom line: Overall we had an amazing vacation. Cruise vacations are what you make of them and it means not getting all excited about a little line, and just going with the flow. Everyone needs to remember there are 3,000 guests on the ship and there are bound to be a few lines and such. My biggest complaint is entitled vacationers and those who don't watch their children! The Freedom is a great ship with a great crew. Everyone we encountered was wonderful to us, and loved our kids. In particular, the ladies in the Chic dining room who fawned over the baby every night and even during the day when they saw him.
This is probably the best cruise we have taken and are already planning our next Carnival cruise!!